Italian ports vie for lucrative Concordia work
Piombino, Genoa, Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo in the frame18 September, 18:35
(ANSA) - Rome, September 18 - Several Italian ports are vying for the honour - and lucrative business - of scrapping the Costa Concordia, the capsized liner set upright in an unprecedented operation beamed around the world for 19 hours Monday and Tuesday. Italy's environment minister said Wednesday it was too soon to say which city will host the operation, "Piombino is the ideal port in terms of proximity," said Andrea Orlando, referring to the Tuscan port town not far south of the wreck site off the coast of Giglio Island. "But the discussion is premature," he added, contradicting statements from the transport ministry that Piombino was a hot favourite to do the job. Orlando stressed the importance of "not letting the Concordia go to a port in the Third World, where ships are demolished in dangerous conditions".
Since the wreckage was successfully righted early Tuesday, talk in Italy and elsewhere has shifted to the scrapping of the massive ship, twice the size of the Titanic. Palermo, Civitavecchia, Genoa and Naples have each been cited as possible host cities in addition to Piombino.
Work began Wednesday on the wreck of the Concordia to create safe conditions to search for the bodies of two victims who have remained missing since the mammoth cruise ship went down in one of Italy's worst maritime disasters in January 2012, killing 32.
The search for passenger Maria Grazia Tricarichi and crew member Russel Rebello will begin at the earliest on Thursday, divers said.
Relatives of both victims arrived at the crash site at Tuscany's Giglio Island on Tuesday.
On Wednesday they and local officials threw flowers onto the waters next to the newly upright behemoth. The ship's carcass must be winterized - in essence stabilized - in order to withstand cold weather to be floated and hauled away come the warm season next year, Italy's Civil Protection Chief Franco Gabrielli said on the margins of a press conference Wednesday.
A salvage crew from the Italian-US consortium Micoperi-Titan succeeded in righting the ship and resting it on an undersea platform in the world's biggest-ever such operation which ended 4:00am Tuesday. The righting of the liner now makes the search for the missing victims possible.
"We can only be optimistic," said the head of the diving crew.
Rebello's brother told Italian TV: "I just want to have something to bury, although I realise there may not be much left after such a long time under water".
Tricarichi's husband said he wanted to take her remains back to "put them into the earth of her beloved native Sicily, where she always said she would like to go".
The trial of Francesco Schettino, the captain who was at the helm of the Concordia when it hit a rock off Giglio, is set to resume in the Tuscan city of Grosseto on Monday, judicial sources said Wednesday.
Schettino's defense team in July asked the court to accept a plea bargain for a jail term of three years, five months.
State prosecutors in May rejected the same offer.
Schettino could face 20 years in prison if he is found guilty of charges including dereliction of duty and multiple manslaughter.
Friends who have seen Schettino in recent days said Wednesday he was "distraught".
They say he has been living holed up in his home in a town south of Naples, poring over his documents for his court case.
The ex-commander has been spotted venturing for occasional walks in his hometown of Meta, and was seen two weeks ago eating pizza with his wife and daughter in a restaurant just a few dozen metres from his home.
The former ship commander has shunned journalists and all visitors except for his closest friends.
A camera crew on Tuesday failed, despite great effort, even to persuade neighbors to talk in his historic quarter, where almost everyone has a seafaring relative.
"Leave him be, will you, he's suffering," the local priest told reporters. Dubbed 'Captain Coward' by the media for allegedly abandoning ship without overseeing the evacuation, Schettino claims his image and actions have been distorted by investigators and called on judges for a new probe in recent months.
He said that by guiding the Concordia close to shore as it was taking on water, he stopped it sinking outright and saved the lives of more than 4,000 people after the ship had its fatal encounter with the rock formation on January 13, 2012.